17 November 2009

Granola Interview with Photographer Sam Schwartz

It's been long and coming but FINALLY, here is my interview with my dear friend, amazing photographer and fellow granola Sam Schwartz. I asked a lot of questions and she provided LOADS of information. But I promise you, it is worth the read. I learned so much more about sustainability and about Sam and I am so grateful she did this for me. Now I'm encouraged to interview even more people to learn more! Two performers in my most recent show are vegetarians and during our last break in between shows I grilled them with questions. I'm sure they were wondering just what I was up to. Now without further ado, here is Sam. I'll interject my responses and such, here and there, fyi.

I am the black girl in the picture. My fiend Megan is in the middle. And Sam is on the other end.

What is a CSA? How did you learn about? 

Actually, I learned about the CSA from my roommate Laura.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Basically, we (along with many others) purchase a share of a local, Illinois farm.  For about 5 months a year, we receive 3/4 bushel of freshly picked, organic fruits and vegetables every week.  We have the option of getting bread, meat, and eggs from the same farm for an additional price.  Laura and I started purchasing the share two years ago.  We write a check to the CSA around March or April and then we are able to pick up the food once a week starting at the beginning of June until the last week or so of October.  Buying into a CSA program has several benefits.  First, you are getting freshly picked fruits and vegetables from an organic farm--which means no nasty chemicals or synthetic fertilizers AND your produce is only a few hours picked, so there are maximum nutritional benefits.  Second, because the CSA is local, you are supporting local agriculture, which is just better for farmers and for you.  You also have the option of helping with certain harvests if you want.  Related to being locally grown, you are also eating foods as common as carrots, but as diverse as kohlrabi or swiss chard.  Lastly, I have definitely become more aware of keeping food and planning meals around the food that is in season and provided.    

(Because of Sam's CSA involvement, we were able to take this apples........)

(...and turn them into this delicious pie!)

Another cool thing about CSA's:  if you live in a warmer climate (such as Florida) sometimes you can get this produce all year round--and it might even be cheaper and have awesome things like almonds!  There are also co-ops where you can get things like soap, paper products and other non-perishables.

Do you consider yourself "green"? In what ways would you say you live a "green" life?

Well, "Green" is a term I think we all need to use very loosely.  To be honest, I think it is all marketing!  Let's put it this way:  I recycle.  I try to turn things off and unplug them when they are not in use.  I don't buy those t-shirts at luxury brand stores that have weird "green" messages on them.

In what ways do you see yourself improving towards living a more sustainable life?  

Sustainability is always a goal.  Let me explain in the light of what I just said above:  "Green" to me seems like a really great way to make people spend more; consume more.  The idea of sustainability is about allowing life to be simpler while also trying not to drain a community or system of its resources.  I also think that sustainability has a lot to do with a process over time.  Being “green” is a trend, a tax break, a social status.  However, living with the goal of a sustainable lifestyle not only connects us to our communities, but makes us aware of our habits.  A sustainable lifestyle can also connect us more fully to our futures. Humans spend so much time figuring out how to get more for less.   More money for less work, more food for less cost, two for one…you see it all over the place, and frankly, this attitude disconnects us—from others, from the world, and ultimately from ourselves.  We don’t pay attention to where food or products come from.  We don’t know who harvests, or what it takes to grow.  We don’t know what chemicals enter into our bodies and homes.  Personally, I think living sustainably might take a little more time and effort, but in the long run, you get what you work for and it is more satisfying in the end.  I wish that we could live by that sort of mantra—you get what you work for.  Consider: 

    “[H]uman brains…[have] become such copious and irresponsible generators of suggestions as to what might be done with life, that they made acting for the benefit of future generations seem one of many games which might be played by narrow enthusiasts—like poker or polo or the bond market, or the writing of science fiction novels.
    [We] found ensuring the survival of the human race a total bore.”  --Kurt Vonnegut
I believe that taking these extra steps to be connected are more than just the trend that people make it out to be.  It is an important step to making certain that we can survive ourselves and our own technology and ideas.
    So, ways that I see myself improving...Over the past year I have started to wash out my ziplock bags (most of the time...if there is meat/dairy/egg product, I usually throw it out) and reuse them, I started an herb garden in my apartment, I unplug appliances such as the toaster, tv, cell charger, etc.  I also try to buy used if possible either through craigslist, freecycle, or the thrift store.  I've been trying to buy local groceries if possible.  I try to buy my spices and other herbs in bulk--sold in a small bag--to cut down on waste.  In fact, if I can find things without the extra packaging there is a better chance I will buy it that way.

I have also started to cut back on the chemicals I introduce to my environment and body.  It is very difficult because sometimes I rely on strange chemicals for medical reasons or because those are the things that are available and work the best.  I encourage people to take a look at the ingredients of things like lotions or cleaners.  I try my best to purchase cleansers that are not petroleum based.  Instead of buying a highly chemicalized prescription lotion for the very dry skin I get in the winter, I started just using olive oil, which has worked wonders….and I know exactly where it comes from!

It really helps to have a roommate who has these same goals also.  It doesn't help when your roommate doesn't care about things like saving energy or recycling.  My current roommate, Laura, is pretty awesome about stuff like this and I've learned a lot from her.  In that respect it is helpful to have friends who share the same values.  I get a lot of great ideas from friends!

Goals for the future: I would love to get one of those composters and start composting.  I would also love to start my own vegetable garden.  Going to the grocery store has become such a disappointment because it is hard to tell where that food is coming from.  Very few grocery stores and products label if something is genetically modified (because it is not something Congress sees as important…for whatever reason—food industry lobbyists, I’m sure.  Europe does it even for things like candy bars.)  That being said I would like to start buying more locally grown foods from farmers markets, and maybe even directly from local farms.

Is living a sustainable life in line with your personal goals for life? (for example, one goal of mine to be intentional in all that I do, to be present. one thing I've seen is that by trying to be more conscious of my energy consumption, waste reduction or intake of local food...i find that it makes me a more intentional person and it keeps me present. they just linked up naturally) Do you see examples of this in your life?  

Yes, a little.  A lot of these new habits started in an effort to save money.  This summer, I started baking my own bread because I realized that purchasing "the good bread" was costing me as much as $4.00 a loaf, but if I made it from scratch it cost me about $1.11 a loaf.  The same with herbs.  Buying them fresh from the grocery store can cost upwards of $3 (or more) and then they go bad before I can use them up.  But I can have fresh herbs all year round just by investing $1.25 in seeds and some dirt.  The same goes for buying used things. You can usually find things just as good as new for much less--and you don't encourage mindless spending.  Because you have to spend the time looking for something worth your money AND time, you are less likely to just buy whatever is stocked on the shelf at a department store.  It's all out there, folks.  Everyone thinks they need everything at one point, and when they decide they don't, it goes to the thrift store.   
All that to say, I've saved money, but I also found that things become much simpler when they don't come in a package.  Things seem to exist better, to flow together.  By simplifying I feel like I am doing something good for myself as much as possible.  It’s one of the only ways I feel like I can be a little selfish, without actually negatively impacting others. The effort adds balance to life. And I think that is the purpose now:  to find a better balance every day.

Why are many of your products in your home organic, natural, sustainable or raw? Such as the raw sugar, unbleached flour, seventh generation tissue, recycled aluminum foil?  

 (photos I took around Sam's home)

Here's another side of the story:  I don't want processed foods in my body!  Did you know that European countries won't import our meat and other foods because they are appalled by the way we produce our food?  American food won't pass any standards tests in Europe.  The way we produce and slaughter animals.  (By the way, did you know that raw meat in America is treated with Ammonia to keep out contamination?) The pesticides and hormones and genetically modified seeds we use.  It's really horrific.  As for the raw sugar--I'm a vegetarian (although I still eat some fish every so often) and often times sugar, when it is refined, is filtered through an active carbon source--usually animal bone char.  I'm usually not one of those crazy vegetarians, but I just find this kind of nasty.  All of this may sound kind of fundamentalist, but the way I think about it, every little bit counts.   

(photos I took around Sam's home)

Were you raised in a granola home?

Not entirely...We did eat a lot of granola! I was raised in a home without a ton of money.  So a lot of the things we did revolved around trying not to spend a lot of it.  Turning off lights, shopping resale, all that. My mom was an avid recycler though.  Before there were recycling programs in our town, I remember every Saturday we packed up all our recycling in the car and drove it to the next town over to recycle it.  And after we got a pick-up service, we had these huge bins where we put the recycling after we washed it and removed all the labels and reduced it.  We were recycling MACHINES!

Why did you choose to become a vegetarian? Have you noticed a different in your life since doing so? Have you felt that your meals are limited because you've taken meat out? 

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I first started eating vegetarian in high school because of a bet.  My best friend bet me that I couldn't last a month and I was determined to prove her wrong!  I've gone back and forth since then.  Reasons that I eat vegetarian:  Health reasons--I've found that eating less processed, simpler foods helps digestion, helps me to sleep more soundly, I feel more energetic because I'm eating several times a day in smaller portions and eating things that have more available nutrients than, say, a lean cuisine.   Other reasons have begun to emerge as well.  As I've continued exploring a vegetarian diet, I've found that it can also support a more sustainable ecosystem, a more balanced agricultural system.  I know that one person cannot change the way our farming system works.  But I also like the idea that I can explore other options like the CSA, not eating meat, buying more natural, organic foods, fair trade products. 

(If you go to dinner at Sam's place, you will eat things like Stuffed Tomatoes with Risotto, Ginger Carrots and Homemade Dill Bread.)

What is your favorite green product?  

What is a great green tip? 

Evaluate the things you buy, such as cleaner, shampoo, lotions.  Take a look at the ingredients and see if you can find products with ingredients that you can identify right away.  If you have to Google more than 2 or 3 things, you might want to find an alternative.

Try to buy more locally grown veggies, eggs, and meats.  They taste better!

I notice that your apartment has lots of plants and herbs that you grow and take care of? Is there a particular reason? 

Having plants in the apartment makes it seem a little calmer and a little more inviting, especially in the winter.  It also increases oxygen, humidity in the winter, and has a cooling effect in the summer.  Also, they are easier to take care of than dogs…or kids…and I kill fish all the time…so, plants it is!

(Sometimes, Sam even has tomatoes and lavender growing at her place. It's wonderful!)


Tell me about your chair project and why you didn't just go buy chairs from ikea?

I needed some dining room chairs and I found 2 sets of 2 matching chairs from freecycle.com.  The upholstery was dirty and ugly, but this was fine with me because I wanted to reupholster the cushions myself.  Why? First I wanted to have chairs that were unique from anyone else’s!  I also like the idea of refinishing old things and making them usable and hopefully stylish.  So I got the chairs for free, and then I went to a cute little fabric store in Wicker Park
www.theneedleshop.com and found some fabric that I liked.   

Also some other questions that will be good for people to know....

Where are you from?  

I am from Pell Lake WI.  It’s ok if you don’t know where it is.  We didn’t have paved roads until 1999.

On a Saturday afternoon at 3pm what are you most likely to be doing? 

Maybe taking a walk with a certain dog, cooking, if I’m being good I’m exercising.  Taking photos around town…shooting a wedding.  As I write this, I am sitting with two dogs, a handsome man and some good tunes, brewing my first beer recipe—Pear Walnut Oktoberfest!

Anything else you'd like to add? 

http://www.plowcreek.org/farm/    (our csa)
http://www.foodincmovie.com/about-the-issues.php  (the website for the movie Food, Inc., but also includes links to other sites with information about food)
http://www.wbez.org/Program_WV_Series.aspx?seriesID=143  (podcasts/online listening on public radio about food)
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120013107   (part I of an interview about overfishing on Fresh Air)
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120049590  (part II of an interview about overfishing and how to eat fish more sustainably)
www.michaelpollan.com   (he is not only a phenomenal writer but also writes about sustainability, farming, consuming, and nature in the books he writes, but also for print such as the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, etc.  This is a link to his site, which links to articles he has—beautifully--written)

Sam is a photographer who currently resides in Chicago, IL. To learn more about Samantha Rose Photography, please visit SamanthaRosePhotography.com.

(Would you like to be interviewed next on granola tendencies? Do you live a granola life? Do you have amazing tips and advice that would help others learning more about sustainability? If so, email me at SheenaLYoung at gmail dot com and I'm sure readers would love to hear from you!)

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